Why you should stop trying to build brand awareness for your firm

Feb 28, 2023 | Business messaging and branding, Marketing and promotion, Recruitment, Reputation, Sole practitioners, Websites

My advice here re building and promoting your firm’s brand is controversial. And of course there will be some exceptions. But I would urge you to read this post with an open mind before deciding whether or not YOUR firm really is one of those exceptions.

Let’s start with ten top accountancy brands. As an accountant in practice you can probably reel off ten very easily. How many of those do you think a typical client of YOUR firm would be able to name – or would even recognise?

Once you move outside of the accountancy and finance professions, brand awareness drops off very fast. Even the larger firms don’t have widespread brand awareness among the public at large.

You could argue that they don’t need to be household names. What’s important is that their target market recognises and rates the brand. I would agree. Firms also want to be well regarded among potential influencers and referrers.

Building brand awareness and loyalty is important for multi-partner firms. This is one way in which they can benefit from being a larger firm. Their investment in marketing and promotional activities helps boost the brand, helps generate brand awareness and helps open the door when new work opportunities arise.

Years ago I was headhunted to be a partner at BDO. To this day I still reference this fact and typically name that firm to evidence my credibility when I was in practice.

A top 60 accountancy firm with around 20 partners advertises regularly on a local radio station in London. I am sure this helps build their profile with the listeners. And, as they’ve been doing it so long I would hope that it’s proving a good investment!

In practice though I suspect it does more to aid recruitment and retention of staff who are keen to join a firm they have heard of and that stands out from the crowd.  I remain doubtful that many sizeable business owners reference the radio ads as the prompt for them to have got in touch. Remember, they would not know who to ask for when they call.

What about smaller firms though?

I regularly come across accountants who have chosen unusual names for their firms. I applaud the founders of such firms IF such names make their firms STAND OUT and be more memorable. In some cases it is clear that they have engaged the services of a branding expert, such as Philippa Haynes who founded Insight 101. These firms stand out because of the congruency of the brand with the owner’s approach and style. The firm’s branding brings the owner’s vision to life.

In most cases however a branding expert has evidently NOT been involved and it is in such cases that I doubt the value of trying to boost, build and promote the firm’s brand. In my view this is the case whether or not your firm has a memorable name. Of course I’m aware of plenty of reasons for and against using your own surname as the practice name.  That’s a separate issue.

Either way, my point is that the name of your firm is NOT what gets you business (most of the time). Your clients either want YOU or they don’t. The only ‘brand’ you need to boost is your own personal brand. This is another reason why I encourage accountants to focus their attention on Linkedin rather than other social media networks – unless you KNOW that your target audience is active on them AND will see your posts etc.

Linkedin is an online business networking platform. On Linkedin, you have a personal profile. You post as you. You comment as you and  you connect as you. Not as your firm. Your profile photo is a key part of your profile.

I have long debunked the hype around Twitter for example. In time, even those who disagreed with me seem to have eventually had to accept that my advice over the last ten-plus years was right.

On Twitter you can also have a personal profile, but many smaller firms instead use Twitter in their firm’s name. They hide the details of who is behind the firm. They don’t share their name or their photo. In almost all such cases this is a complete waste of time and effort. Barely anyone sees their Twitter posts or wants to connect with a local accountancy firm that tweets occasionally. If you are going to be on Twitter, it has always made more sense to use it in your own name – and to only mention your accountancy firm in your Twitter profile.  But even that is rarely going to be of much value to you.

Instead, let’s consider the same advice and apply it to your website. If it’s not attracting the new clients you want, think about adding in details of who is running the firm. Reveal the name or names of who the client will be dealing with. That’s one of the things they are looking for when they visit your website.  Who are YOU?

If your clients like you they will talk about YOU. If they are asked to recommend an accountant they will recommend YOU. If you meet with introducers and influencers they will only want to refer people to YOU. Your firm’s brand name will always be secondary.

Of all the accountants I have worked with and advised in recent years I can think of only one who is the exception that proves the rule 😉

He runs a well established firm that used to have 3 or 4 partners. It’s now owned by him as a sole practitioner with over 30 staff. The local name awareness is such that local brand name advertising and promotions is all he needs to do to attract a continual stream of good quality new clients every month.

This is very much an exceptional case for a number of reasons – including the firm’s longevity, local profile and the number of client handlers in the firm. Unless you can articulate similar good reasons in your case I would stress that you can waste a lot of time and money trying to build brand awareness for your accountancy practice.

Focus instead on investing time and money in ways that are more likely to achieve your business objectives.  Keep in mind that new business, recommendations and referrals are more likely to come to YOU, as people get to know like and trust YOU. This can be through face to face meetings, at networking events, through consistent online posts or thanks to the reputation that YOU are building with everyone who knows you.

My clients tend to be sole practitioners who are frustrated, overwhelmed or lonely – in that they use me as an NED style mentor to sense-check their decisions and choices and to provide informed insights drawn from my experience. If this sounds like you, let’s have a conversation about that issue that’s facing you right now. Just pick a  time that suits here >>>    There’ll be no charge, obligation or hard sell. I’ll enjoy the call and may use the anonymised conversation to inspire a future blog post, talk or article.

Discuss this post?

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in this blog post. I’m always happy to do that without any charge or obligation. Book a good time here now

Like this post?

You can get links to each of my new blog posts and further practical business development related tips in my weekly emails. Join the thousands who get this free of charge by signing up here

Want one-off or regular support?

Please check out the mentoring page of my website and then arrange a call


Related Articles